The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog

Paddy the Cop

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I am proud of my Irish heritage. I rode my bicycle through Ireland years ago and marveled at the people and the countryside. Our lineage and link to the old country was through my great grandfather on my mother’s side. His name was Patrick Carroll and this is a little story about him.

Patrick emigrated to America around the turn of the 20th century and settled in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Paddy - Copy He built the first house on Stayton Street and it still stands today although a little disheveled from the original appearance. IMG_0922

Patrick became a police officer for the City of Pittsburgh and basically was a beat cop whose jurisdiction was the Marshall/Shadeland area and Woods Run. He was a good cop and raised his family with the same values as he adhered to as a police officer. When you walk the beat, you get to know the people. As I heard it told from my mother and grandmother, Paddy would rattle the fences of houses with his night stick to alert the kids that it was time to go inside. He would see the local guys moving moonshine out of their automobile trunks during prohibition and rap the fenders and tell the guys to keep that business off the street. He left the bigger bootleggers to the Feds, but the local guys trying to make a buck, he looked the other way as long as they did not abuse the privilege. He greeted the ladies with respect and looked after the local businesses on his daily rounds. In short, he was a good cop and looked after the neighborhood. My grandmother told stories about people coming to the house and delivering food and other treats for Paddy Carroll for some favor that he had done for them or for just being attentive to their business or family. This is the way it was back in the day. 86503e7dd09776ce6c0018c1e1c18336

He ended up with a house full too. His wife died at an early age and my grandmother basically ran the house for him and his two sons. My grandfather Jack Reynolds eventually married my grandmother and moved in to the house on Stayton Street. So the house was full of guys with my grandmother cooking and cleaning for the lot. Unknown to Paddy Carroll my grandfather was making gin in the bathtub upstairs in the attic and after prohibition, he switched to beer. Paddy kept an eye on things and when Grandpap Reynolds found out that Paddy was counting the beers in the cases in the basement, he would save the caps,and fill the bottles with water. Paddy would remark that Johnnie was cutting back. My grandfather would chuckle and continue the charade until he stopped drinking around the time when I was a little kid.

At that time, the neighborhood was filled with hard working, blue collar folks trying to raise their families and getting by. Patrick Carroll was a friend to the neighborhood and in reality, he was the patron of the Woods Run and Marshall/Shadeland area. Things have changed a bit in the neighborhood and these days, there are shootings, drugs, violence and other happenings that make the old neighborhood a menacing place to live sometimes. Paddy the Cop would be saddened at the condition of his home, but as life progresses, things change sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

It is said about history that you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been. Perhaps we all could take a lesson from Paddy the Cop’s page when we look back and see how he managed the neighborhood and his job. It is a lot more complicated today with the complexity of crime and poverty. However,without deference to any race, heritage, or social status, Paddy took care of the neighborhood and the neighborhood took care of Paddy. Just sayin. Thanks for reading. IMG_0923

Live Long and Prosper

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s 5 year mission:to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

-Captain James Kirk220px-STWink_Eye

I have always been fascinated with space. I have an entry level telescope and have always been a star gazer. Therefore, I am so excited that the new Star Trek movie is coming out soon. Star Trek Beyond! I will be in the front row. Why you ask? I was a Trekkie from way back. At Allegheny College, we had a whole dorm lobby filled with Trekkies after dinner watching back to back Star Trek re-runs on the Cleveland affiliate station. I watched the originals in the 60s and then when I was in college, it was great entertainment before we had to go back to the dorm room and grind for another test or complete another paper. Star Trek was always interesting because Gene Roddenberry created it as a modern day version of the old Gulliver’s Travels. We all became interested in the characters- Captain Kirk, Sulu, Bones McCoy, Scotty( beam me up), Chekov, and the iconic Vulcan, Mr. Spock. color_nimoy_headshot

Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy who did a masterful job creating the character who was basically a rational thinking alien who was also part human. His history is well explained in the series but he was the right hand man to Captain Kirk. Spock was always in control contrasting the emotional Captain. I used to love the Vulcan mind warp when Spock could delve into the recesses of your mind with a touch to your shoulder. He also could put you out with the same shoulder grab. He was larger than life. He was a Vulcan, and I met him one day, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

My sister was living in New York City in the 80s hosting a TV show called Romper Room. Black and White mirror picture I would visit her and we would take in Broadway shows and classic New York places to eat. One night before we were to go to a show, we stopped to get something to eat at Sardi’s. This was a spot that a lot of Broadway show people would frequent and actors would frequent between show times. There are pictures all over the walls of famous folks and as I was perusing the photos, I noticed a familiar figure sitting in a booth to my left. It was Spock!!!! I whispered to my sister and we both acknowledged the presence of Leonard Nimoy. I wanted to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed his character over all of the years but I didn’t want to bother him. Somehow, I needed to make a connection and I remembered that I had seen him play Malvolio in the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of Shakespeare’s iconic “Twelfth Night.”TwelfthNight_01 He did a great job and I sheepishly approached his table and introduced myself. I told him how much I appreciated his performance at the Public and mentioned nothing about Star Trek. To my great surprise, he beamed!!! He said,” You saw that production in Pittsburgh?” I acknowledged in the affirmative and he invited me and ┬ámy sister to sit down and have a drink with him and his lovely wife. We blushed and said that we were headed to a show and could not stay but he asked me more questions about Pittsburgh and how much he enjoyed his time there. I think the guy was so surprised that someone recognized him outside of his classical character and he was anxious to have more conversation about it. He was so gracious as was his wife, and thanked us for stopping to say hello. I am so happy I didn’t say something stupid or embarrassing about him being a Vulcan. ” Hey Spock – where are your ears?” Or some other random comment that I am sure he has heard thousands of times.

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One thing I have learned about famous people is that in general, they are just people like you and me. Sometimes they are surprised about the depth of their notoriety and are almost embarrassed by it. Most famous people whom I have met are actually quite humble and although we think of them as larger than life, they really are just plain folks who have had remarkable achievements. They value their privacy but in some cases, they long to discuss topics outside of their notoriety. Everyone likes their privacy and I am sure that many famous celebrities guard their’s with a fervor. However, sometimes you make a connection where you are welcomed and interesting conversations are the result and the celebrity feels engaged and not used with a “selfie” or some other bothersome annoyance. Such was the case with Mr. Nimoy. No one will ever replace him as the Vulcan Spock. But on one night at Sardi’s in New York, he was recognized for a performance in keeping with his extensive training as an actor. Mr. Nimoy is no longer with us but his words still ring encouragement- “live long and prosper.” Thanks for reading.

Fugheddabaddit

“Cause down at the shore everything’s alright
You and your baby on a Saturday night
Nothing matters in the whole wide world
When you’re in love with a Jersey Girl
-Tom Waits Sung by the Boss

My wife Janet is a Jersey girl. Even though she was born and raised in Pittsburgh, she spent a lot of time at the Jersey Shore. As a kid, during high school and college, she spent summers working on the boardwalk selling crabs and Ziggies, doing other summertime part time jobs, and being a waitress. She stayed with her aunt and uncle who insisted that Janet and all the cousins got summer jobs to augment their fun times on the beach and on the “boards.” beachwater
While working as a waitress, she had a boss who said,” fugheddabaddit” for everything. ” Hey, how is the Pastrami today?” ” Fugheddabaddit. ” Hey, can I have a day off tomorrow? ” Fugheddabaddit” ” Hey what is the weather like tomorrow?” ” Fugheddabaddit. Don’t you just love the Jersey accent and demeanor? It is no wonder that we go every year on the annual pilgrimage to Avalon, NJ. We just can’t help ourselves with the tradition and the feeling that you get when you cross that bridge into New Jersey and then smell the salt air in Egg Harbor. IMG_0254
A lot of Pittsburghers have gone elsewhere in the summer. The Outer Banks, Myrtle, Florida. But most of the hard core Pittsburghers still make the pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore for a myriad of reasons. We go with two other families and have done so for years. So many traditions have been established down there like Mack and Manco pizza on the boards with Johnson’s caramel corn. It is now Mack and Mack but basically the same pizza on the boardwalk in the evening watching the show of visitors and tourons that frequent these parts in the summer. As I previously mentioned, the local folks who have businesses down there who survived the hurricanes and just keep working and rebuilding, are typical of the New Jersey mindset. My knuckles get white from squeezing the steering wheel when I enter the state and I always remark that these people aren’t good enough to drive that fast. But you get guys like old man Moran at Moran’s Dockside who will sell you blood worms, clams, shrimp and every other kind of bait in the world every day with a deadpan look on his face. When I told him the last time that I am having no luck with all the bait that I have purchased each and every day, he looks at me and says,” Too hot to fish.” ” Bad time of year.” So I say,” Then why did you sell me the bait? ” He says ,” You wanted to fish.” Gadda love these folks!!! So I am relegated to fishing with my buddy Dean Denmead and on occasion coming up with Satanic catches like eels, horshoe crabs, turtles, dogfish and the occasional snow tire. But it is all part of the tradition. Even when the land breeze flies bite your legs so hard during the baiting of the line. It is like they sense that you are trying to get ready to fish and therefore are distracted enough to allow for them to feast on your flesh. downsized_0715091352
For me, the only way I maintain sanity is to ride my road bike with Mike King from Avalon to Cape May in the mornings. The early morning sunrises, seeing the crabbers under the draw bridges, and smelling the salt air is intoxicating. Part of the visit is to stop at Nun’s Beach in Stone Harbor and get the new T shirt for the year that commemorates another season at the beach with the pending surf contest sponsored by the nuns at the convent on the beach. Don’t tell me the Catholic clergy has it tough. Dinners at Sylvester’s with the fantastic fresh seafood eaten from paper plates on a picnic table may not be haute cuisine but it sure is Jersey. The corn, the tomatoes, the lazy days on the beach- people watching, are some of the things that Janet talks about all year. Fugheddabaddit.

So, in a few weeks, we will pack up the vehicle, bungee the beach chairs and fishing gear to the roof, put the bikes on the rack, and head east. And the reason you do it every year is because everything’s all right when you are in love with a Jersey girl. Thanks for reading.

The Piano Man

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Well, I am going to see the real Piano Man tonight at PNC Park. Billy Joel has always been a real talent in my eyes and although I don’t expect to see him run all around the stage like the last time I saw him, I know his music is timeless. Thinking about the piano, let me tell you a few tales of my piano experience over the years.
It all started when my mom signed me up for piano lessons at 7 years old with Mrs. Chang from the neighborhood behind ours. I was excited to see if I could play and when I got my first music book with the songs “Birthday Party” and ” Sandman”, I worked hard to play them correctly. Mrs. Chang had her mom fill in from time to time and although she was a gracious older lady, she had this habit of passing gas during my chromatic scales. She would bounce one off the piano bench while sitting next to me and it was alarming/amusing as I was midway through the scale.I told my mom who said that it was part of the culture of Asia and nothing should be thought of it. Probably her way of making sure I did not quit.
Fast forward a couple of years to a new teacher down the street. Mrs. Manson was a little more demanding and her social graces more “western” so to speak as she politely scolded me if I did not practice to her satisfaction. My mom would always retrieve me from the field across the street and tell me to start walking to my lesson. I had to step up my game when Mrs. Manson had us do recitals every month with the other students who were mostly girls. As I sat down at the piano with a shirt and tie, the nerves always started to rattle because I did not want to look bad in front of a bunch of giddy grade school girls. It usually started with a clunker and Mrs. Manson would say, ” Start over again Patrick.” The sweat beads began to flow.
What turned the tide for me was when our backyard neighbor, Dorothy Morgan, gave me some music books featuring show tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe. I found out that I could play these tunes and accompany my mother who had perfect pitch and a beautiful voice. I can remember many parties at my folks where I would spend time playing for my mom to the delight of her guests. This continued when I became the default piano player at Christmas parties. Our spinet at home had many gin and tonics, beers, wine and other alcoholic drinks spilled in the keyboards over the years as revelers at my folks house would constantly bark in my ear,” Play White Christmas……dammit.”
Moving forward, my path to musical anonymity was aided by taking some piano electives at Allegheny College. I had the good fortune of studying under the tutelage of Lucille and Frederic Marantz who were noted classical pianists and performed nationally. A lot of the students in the music program, were studying to go to Oberlin or Julliard and yours truly struggled not to hit the cracks. At our college recitals, I would often come straight from the tennis courts, a ball of sweat, and bang out Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” as my performance piece while the other more refined and serious students played their sonatas and various piano pieces from the classical composers. Drs. Marantz saw me as a bit of an anomaly and a breath of fresh air in a program that was pretty structured as a feeder to Oberlin and Julliard. Allegheny was probably the high water mark of my piano playing.
I continued to play and had some funny experiences playing in bars and parties along the way which resulted in free beers and laughs. I even had an experience sitting in on Bourbon Street with an old time rag band in a bar. My friend Norm put me up to it on a business trip and the guys were kind to me by playing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” which was a slow march and allowed me to keep up with my three chord progression in a major key. The sweat beads started to come again but I was happy to have performed as such on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
My piano sits a little idle in my house currently but as I get older, I see the need to keep up what meager skills I have. So I am sure that the Piano Man will inspire me to once again get partially serious about playing and if Janet, Joan and Jack can stand the occasional clunker and crack playing, I will fill the house with some kind of music. The moral of the story is that you are never too old to pick up a musical instrument. Encourage your child, grandchild, spouse, or whomever to play. It is good for your mind and you never know, people might ” put bread in your jar, and say Man! what are you doing here.” Thanks for reading.

The Jeep Wave

So I bought a Wrangler to replace my Jeep Liberty which had 181,000 miles on it and rust holes as big as my fist. My son thought it was bad form for me to cover the rust holes with duct tape but I said it added character. In any event, it was time and I went to my friend Jim Krebs and got another Jeep – but this time I wanted the Wrangler. Funny thing is that when I first got it, my wife Janet remarked that people in Wranglers were waving at me. I said to her that maybe it was something to do with Wranglers like the Harley people give the cool, understated wave to each other. A nod of acceptance in their case. So when I got home, I went on the net and discovered that there is a very popular practice called…………the Jeep wave.
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Now I found out some interesting things in my research. Number one, you should always wave no matter what. Secondly. there is a protocol which if followed strictly, allows for a point system that grades your Jeep. If it is pre- civilian dating back to the 40s, you always wait for them to wave first then you respectfully wave or maybe even salute. If the Jeep is tricked out better than yours, you also wait until they wave first. Maybe to see if you are worthy of their wave? But always, always wave no matter what. My son Jack thinks it is dorky of course but you are a bit of an a-hole if you do not wave.

Now , some things I have found in my own personal research on the subject while driving. Women tend not to wave either because they are preoccupied or prefer not to wave to a stranger. Kind of like the stranger is saying,” Drive here often?” To which they seem to say- “Buzz off Sherlock. You and your wave.” Other observations include people who try to give you a cool version. Not much effort but a quick peace sign above the steering wheel. There are those who give you the full hand staccato wave like they are saying, ” Yes- I follow the rules and obviously you like my Jeep so I will fully acknowledge you.” There are the outdoors types who have all the doors off and the top removed and give you the wave outside the left of the car. I hear that it is extra points if you have your roof off in the winter and you give the wave out of the top of the vehicle with your wool cap showing.

The wave is reserved for Wranglers. There is no Liberty wave, Grand Cherokee wave, only Wranglers. The basic design of the exterior of the Wrangler has not changed much over they years and apparently the protocol of the wave goes back many years. Veteran Wrangler owners have told me that it becomes a little bit of a pain in the ass to keep waving but I must admit, I like it. In these days of waning gentility, fraternity, friendliness, there are mechanisms that allow people to join together and celebrate life. Take for instance the fraternity of the Terrible Towel. We all feel one when we wave the towel here in Pittsburgh. Somehow these things give us a bond that we celebrate. The Jeep wave is one of those mechanisms. So, if you see me waving at you and perhaps you don’t have a Wrangler, please note that I probably have gotten so excited waving that I wave at everybody. My wife is amazed at the people I talk to on a daily basis. Tool booth operators, the guys and gals holding the stop signs at road construction sites- I talk to all of them. Fast food drive through people. I wave to the cops- it never hurts. I guess I just like people and get involved maybe where I should be a little more reserved. I need the Jeep wave like I need a second navel. But it is another way of saying- hi neighbor, nice Jeep. My son just shakes his head. SMH as they say. Thanks for reading.

Everybody needs an Uncle Al

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When I look at this picture I smile. This is the Murray family that I grew up with back in the day. Al and Elaine Murray were good friends of my parents and Anne, Patti, Michael and John became good friends with my sister and me. People back in the early 60s dressed in their Sunday best to go to church, dinner, or other special occasions. Times have changed and things are more casual but this reminds me of when my folks took my sister and me to Fort Ligonier and other fun sites after church. They dressed me in a sport coat and bow tie with a 3 cornered Colonial hat( Dorksville, USA). But this was the way things were and I am sure most of us have pictures just like this of family times together.
But this is not the story. I want to focus on Uncle Al,the patriarch of the family that you see here. The Murrays were not blood relatives but we saw them as so and Molly and I called Al and Elaine – Uncle Al and Aunt Elaine. Uncle Al was a character. Like a lot of guys my age, we had people in our lives that had some influence and Al was one of them in my life. He was an affable Irishman as you can see with that mug. He grew up in a tough neighborhood and consequently he could handle himself. Like when a guy came up to him in a trench coat with something protruding underneath. The guy says to Uncle Al,” give me your wallet.” Uncle Al immediately decks the guy and he falls and hits his head on the curb- lights out!!! The police came by and told Al that the guy better have a gun because Al was in trouble if he didn’t. Turns out that the guy did have a 38 caliber revolver and Al knocked him cold.
Another time, we were all in church in South Carolina and a priest at mass started to get all political in the pulpit. He says to the congregation,” Maybe I should not be speaking this way from the pulpit?” To which Al responds in a voice louder than the whisper,” You’re right- shut the hell up.” My dad and I almost fell over with laughter in church and another legendary performance for me from my Uncle Al.
If memory serves me, they had a dog named Trixie who barked incessantly when we came to visit. We all would be exchanging pleasantries when all of a sudden Al screamed out ” Shut up Trixie” at the top of his voice. The damn dog fell silent and Al beamed at me with a wry smile that said,” I showed that dog.”
Point being that humor is an essential part of life and Al never took life too seriously. When you are a young guy growing up, you look up to your dad and his friends. Uncle Al was definitely the leader of his family and was a disciplinarian. But he was also funny as hell and a hero to me growing up. When he passed some years ago, I felt a void that reminded me that some day, I would not have my dad either. His generation was fading and it was time for me to grow up. But we need Uncle Als in our lives because they mentor us. They show us that families matter and that you can get through life’s troubles and trials with laughter and a light approach to life. Keep your pictures of family and friends. They will make you smile when you root through some dusty old box and find some gems from your past. Pictures are a window to the past – your past. Cherish your memories and make some of your own. When your wife or husband or child says ” Smile for the camera”, do it. It will be a lasting memory for someone down the road. Thanks for reading.